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Brazilian city holds breath after electing mayor in intensive care

. Dec 03, 2020
Mayor maguito vilela covid Mayor-elect Maguito Vilela (left) is battling a severe Covid-19 infection. Photo: Campaign

In 2018, Jair Bolsonaro shocked the world by winning Brazil’s presidential election after spending a large part of the campaign in the hospital, following a stabbing attack almost two months before election day. Two years later, another politician took this feat to the next level: in Goiânia — Brazil’s tenth-largest city — Maguito Vilela was elected mayor while fighting for his life in an intensive care unit, battling a severe case of Covid-19.

Admitted to the hospital late in October, Mr. Vilela had to be intubated hours prior to the first-round election on November 15.

When the final results came in on Sunday, showing Mr. Vilela having won 52 percent of the vote, the mayor-elect had no idea that he had even qualified for last weekend&#8217;s runoff.</p> <p>When he was officially elected as the new mayor of Goiânia, Mr. Vilela was &#8220;tracheostomized, sedated, and hooked up to a mechanical ventilation system&#8221; in a São Paulo hospital. While the latest medical reports say the politician has finally tested negative for Covid-19, his full recovery remains in question as he is still relying on <a href="https://valor.globo.com/politica/noticia/2020/12/02/eleito-em-goiania-maguito-testa-negativo-para-covid-19-mas-segue-internado.ghtml">machines in order to breathe</a>.</p> <h2>What will happen in Goiânia?</h2> <p>With issues surrounding the mayor-elect&#8217;s health unclear, voters in Goiânia are still unsure who will take over <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/11/30/brazil-political-map-after-the-2020-elections/">City Hall on January 1</a>. The less complicated scenario, of course, would be if Maguito Vilela enjoys a full recovery from his coronavirus infection. But if his health deteriorates, Goiânia could be thrown into unchartered waters.</p> <p>If the winning ticket is certified by electoral courts, Mr. Vilela&#8217;s deputy would take over in the case of his death. However, were the mayor-elect to die <em>before</em> this certification process, then the matter would have to be decided by the Superior Electoral Court, as the Brazilian electoral legislation is unclear on how such an issue should be resolved. There are two possible outcomes:</p> <ul><li>Justices could consider the certification process as a simple matter of formalizing voters&#8217; decisions and allow Mr. Vilela&#8217;s deputy to take power — in this case, evangelical preacher Rogério Cruz.</li><li>Another possible interpretation of the law is that the right to hold public office is only confirmed after certification, meaning that the election would be declared void and a new vote would be called.</li></ul> <p>The latter option would cause all hell to break loose, as current mayoral terms expire on December 31 and newly elected officials must take office on January 1. There would not be enough time for an election — forcing the city to remain under a caretaker administration.&nbsp;</p> <p>In normal circumstances, that would be problematic for ensuring the continuation of public services without disruption. Amid a deadly pandemic that is on the verge of exploding into a second wave of infections, it could cause a collapse.</p> <h2>Son takes over, deputy mayor is nowhere to be found</h2> <p>With his father in the hospital, his son Daniel — a former Congressman&nbsp;—&nbsp;took his place on the campaign trail, acting as the de facto candidate. Once voters elected his father, the young Mr. Vilela also took the lead in the transition committee, completely sidelining deputy mayor-elect Rogério Cruz.</p> <p>As <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> showed, Daniel Vilela is one of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/12/02/shunned-by-bolsonaro-huawei-has-friends-in-brazils-congress/">biggest backers of Chinese telecom giant Huawei in Brazil</a> and currently works for a company that lobbies for the Chinese company&#8217;s interests.</p> <p>Regardless, the son is still running the show. Incumbent Iris Rezende even said that, should the worst happen to Maguito Vilela, Daniel should be named head of the municipal administration. &#8220;The entire city will understand, as [Daniel Vilela] is a young leader, full of life […] and he has what it takes to be a public man,&#8221; said the mayor.</p> <p>Allies dismissed this statement, affirming that allowing Daniel Vilela to become mayor — without ever being elected — would be completely illegal.</p> <p>For the time being, attention in Goiânia is transfixed on Maguito Vilela&#8217;s intensive care bed in São Paulo, hoping that the mayor-elect will recover and avoid an institutional crisis.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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